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products by: Michael Chagala

World Must Look to Solar

January 29, 2014

California has long been on the vanguard of solar power, with its numerous solar projects in Riverside County, Los Angeles' cutting-edge Feed-in Tariff program where solar customers can sell power back to the grid, and the studies that find the state is tops in the United States in terms of solar power usage. Now, the world might be following in California's footsteps when it comes to solar.

Two of Britain's leading scientists, Sir David King and Lord Richard Layard, are advocating for the creation of a worldwide "Sunpower Programme" that would supply cheap solar power by the year 2025. The duo published an article in Britain's The Observer outlining their idea for the program and the need behind its creation.

The article was spurred by a recent United Nations report that stated the dangers of dependence on fossil fuels in the light of climate change, and the necessity to develop alternative, non-carbon sources of power. Kind and Layard stated that a major international effort, with clear goals and a timetable to meet those goals, was crucial to developing those alternative energy resources. While they noted the benefits of certain types of renewable or alternative energy, such as wind power and hydropower, they stated solar power is the best solution to this global issue. 

"The sun sends energy to the Earth equal to about 5,000 times our total energy needs," The Observer article stated. "It is inconceivable that we cannot collect enough of this energy for our needs, at a reasonable cost. The price of photovoltaic energy is falling at 10% a year, and in Germany a serious amount of unsubsidized solar electricity is already being added to the grid. In California, forward contracts for solar energy are becoming competitive with other fuels and they will become more so, as technology progresses."

King and Layard said there are two challenges inherent to solar power-storing it so it is available around the clock and the cost of transmitting the power generated in the vast open spaces where solar plants are located to major cities around the world. To solve those challenges, the duo stated that the Sunpower Programme could be created to focus on "research, development, and demonstration." Every country in the world could participate, with the final goal to produce the bulk supply of each country's solar power to its grid at a cheaper rate than fossil fuels. At an international level, the supply level of solar power would be 10% of total energy by 2025 and 25% by 2030.

"Unlike fossil fuel, solar produces no pollution and no miners get killed," the article stated. "Unlike nuclear fission, it produces no radioactive waste. It harnesses the power of the sun, which is the ultimate source of most energy on Earth. And it can strike the imagination of a people and therefore of their politicians."

A recent meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change resulted in its leaders saying they were 95 percent certain climate change, caused by humans, was occurring. According to news reports, Samantha Smith of the World Wildlife Fund said, "We must act or face frightening new impacts. We know that most of the pollution that causes climate change comes from burning fossil fuels. WWF calls on governments and investors to stop investing in dirty energy and start an immediate and just transition by investing in renewables."

Helping the United State make strides toward those goals is a new federal lab that focuses on building a clean-energy infrastructure in America. The Energy Systems Integration Facility in Golden, Colorado, will help utilities develop and test renewable energy systems and innovations. 

"We need to reap the benefits of our tremendous technological advances to start developing solutions for our energy system," said U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz at the lab's dedication ceremony.

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